By Jim Phillips, Columnist
The air grew stagnant and thick in the classroom, as the boy sat in anticipation for the school bell to ring. He had waited for what seemed an eternity as he watched the second hand on the clock, click and seem to stick in place. In the pit of his stomach he wanted to run out and put the school behind him as he ran for the freedom of the weekend. This was no ordinary Friday evening however. This evening was special.
For as long as his memory had withheld him, the vivid images of the squared circle and the gladiators that battled within its roped arena of combat. He was mesmerized by them and they way they captivated the crowds and held them in the palms of their hand. Not a Sunday morning passed that he couldn’t be found lying in the floor, fixated on the action that hummed out of the large wooden encased television that took up one end of the living room. It was good vs evil, it was honor vs treachery, it was church, it was life.
After what seemed an eternity the bell rang and he was free. The wind flew beneath his feet as the pedals on the Bmx bike spun, and whirring of the wheels only fueled his heart to peddle faster. Rounding the corner to home with a scratch of gravel and dust, he dismounted the still rolling bicycle and burst thru the front door. His heart raced, as he knew that in a few short hours he would be there, watching it all in person. The next two hours passed with snail-like precision, and the boy thought his father would never get home for dinner. He knew that after that, it would be time to head out. When his father was halfway thru his meal the boy was already finished eating and sitting on the edge of the couch, legs anxiously jumping. As soon as his father’s hands touched the old hat he kept on the hook by the door, he was moving out the door to the car. The ride to the event was filled with the excited thoughts of what may be to come, and the undoubted carnage he was about to behold.
As the old sedan pulled into the parking lot of the Civic Center he could hear the noise coming from inside the building. He ran ahead of his father to the large front doors of the old building. He had been there for school functions and driven past it so many times on his bicycle, loaded down with newspapers to be delivered. But tonight, this night, was different. The building took on a shadowy mystique that he hadn’t felt in it before. It was an electricity he sensed in the air, and the hairs on his arms and neck stood on end as he peered thru the doors to the auditorium, where he could see the empty ring up on the stage. His senses were beckoned the other way to the smell of hot popcorn and the buzz of activity around the merchandise booths.
“Programs, popcorn, peanuts! Get your t-shirts here!!”, filled his ears with the sensation of a circus atmosphere as barkers tried to sell their wares.
It was a euphoric sense of controlled mania and chained insanity that really tugged at his heart. He was happier than any Christmas morning, or birthday party he had ever been to. Even at his young age he knew that this was a special moment to be savored and he tried to sear everything into his memory. After a brief wait in line for refreshments they made their way to their seats. The smile on the boy’s face seemed never-ending as it grew with every snap of the head as he took in the crowd around him and the sounds of last minute preparations from the other side of the large golden yellow curtain that draped behind the ring.
Then, as the lights fell dark and the announcer stepped thru the ropes he knew he was there. In that special place only some fans understand exists. The time between the Star Spangled Banner and the last minutes of the last fall of the night. That little piece of heaven that we all live for…show-time. The next 3 hours felt like 3 minutes as he cheered and booed and laughed. He was told great stories by amazing workers, and even got to see Dick Murdoch make friends with a little old lady in the crowd who kept waving at him and yelling. The boy would learn later that she was giving a special salute and telling Mr. Murdoch that she thought he was ‘Number 1’.
For as long as his memory had withheld him, the vivid images of the squared circle and the gladiators that battled within its roped arena of combat. He was mesmerized by them and they way they captured the crowds and held them in the palms of their hand. Right after combat….it needless to say, captivated him
As the boy walked back to the car with his father he knew that this was the beginning of something more for him. He grew up with wrestling and followed it through many promotions and across hundreds of miles of traveling to see it live. No matter how many times he went to see an event, there was always that little boy inside him. The one that was so excited to go, and who felt that electricity of being there in that holiest of holies; the wrestling matches. After that night, his life would be changed forever.
As some of you may have figured out by now, that young boy was myself. Heritage and the stories of the road are among the things I love most about this business. In this series we will take a look at some stories of the business from the men and women who lived them. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.